The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on Friday said the country was not in a conventional war situation for sections of the populace including some security personnel to use unjustified force or torture as means of enforcing the law.
“CHRAJ wishes to remind all that, although we find ourselves in difficult and challenging times, we are not in a conventional war situation for which some sections of the populace including some security personnel believe unjustified use of force or Torture should be resorted to as means of enforcing the law”.
In a statement signed by Mr Joseph Whittal, CHRAJ Commissioner and copied to the Ghana News Agency said the commission has noted with concern media reports alleging excessive use of force and practices bordering on torture meted out to some persons who are reported to have breached the President’s directives on the lockdown.
The CHRAJ statement said, it has monitored media reports on the implementation of the Executive Order on the lockdown in Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi, and Kasoa.
Pursuant to its constitutional mandate to promote and protect the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all persons in Ghana, which includes the issuance of advisories to government and its agents consistent with the Paris Principles, the Commission has found it compelling to issue this advisory on media reports on excesses attributed to the COVID-19 Security Task Force put together to enforce the Executive Order.
The Commission said notwithstanding, the legal and constitutional basis for the lockdown and restriction or curtailment of movement, the media reports alleging excesses (taking the form of caning, beating, etc. of persons who are deemed to have breached the lockdown directives) should be of great concern to the entire nation.
“Some of the acts reported by the media to have been committed by some members of the Operation COVID Safety team obviously border on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and could be referred to as “Torture” the statement said.
According to CHRAJ, the commission recognised that the country finds itself in an emergency situation requiring the curtailment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms.
“However, it must be equally emphasised that, in the event of an emergency like what persists in Ghana, human dignity cannot be curtailed or “traded off,” the statement said.
It is the considered view of the Commission that the exercise of the powers conferred on the team should be consistent with both Ghana’s Constitution as well as International and Regional Human Rights law.
It should also conform to the normative frameworks as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Nelson Mandela Rules, the Luanda Guidelines and the Robben Island Guidelines (hereinafter referred to as “International Human Rights Instruments”).
To this end, the Commission said even though the President has not specifically exercised his emergency powers under Article 31(1) of the Constitution, the powers being exercised under Act 1012 are in essence are emergency powers.
It is instructive to note that, Article 21(4) (a – e) of the Constitution on which Act 1012 is premised provides as follows: Nothing in, or done under the authority of a law shall be held to be inconsistent with, or in contravention of, this article to the extent that the law in question makes provision.
Except so far as that provision or as the case may be, the thing done under the authority of that law is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in terms of the spirit of this Constitution.
It is obvious that the Constitution envisages the need to control powers exercised by public bodies and officials under Article 21(4) of the Constitution even in emergency situations to avoid violations to human dignity, which have already started manifesting in the enforcement of Act 1012 as shown by the media reports.
“In the circumstances, the Commission would like to remind all public bodies and officials, including Operation COVID Safety Task Force that exercising powers conferred on them by law (Act 1012) that they should be careful not to exercise it arbitrarily.
“Indeed, such powers are constrained by Articles 23 and 296 of the Constitution,” It added.